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Great idea, great story

How to develop a story idea

Doesn’t it feel great when a new idea begins to formulate in your mind, taking shape and becoming three dimensional? It’s the spark of something new and promising.

Ideas, however, don’t make a story. Developing that initial seed and nurturing it until you have a plot, conflict and characters takes time and patience.

Sit with your new idea for a while, playing it through in your mind as you explore possible options. Think of it as a living, breathing entity that can shift and change direction the more you prod and poke at it.

If your idea begins to keep you up at night and takes over your waking thoughts, then it’s a sign that it needs to be taken to the next stage: Story development. 

Mind map

Putting pen to paper is a great way to start your development process. 

In your notebook, write a list of characters, who they are, their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and any other relevant information. Some of these details will be used in your story, while some material will only be used to help you connect with your characters.  

Consider potential scenes or settings and make notes about the places, buildings and areas pivotal to your story. Jot down any conflicts, plot twists and ending ideas you have too. 

If you love visuals, you may find it helpful to create a Pinterest board, or something similar, and collect any inspirational images that relate to your idea. Using photographs to ‘cast’ your characters, as if in a movie, can help bring them to life for you. For every novel I write, I create a book board and collate useful images. I then use it to engage readers when the book is published.

Research, research, research

Start to build a research portfolio. Use questions to guide you. 

Where is your story set? Investigate the area, road maps, history. Even if the setting is familiar to you, research can often unearth nuggets that can enhance your story. 

Now think about your characters. What do they do for a living? Research these roles so you understand what’s involved in their day-to-day tasks. 

If you write historical fiction, research is vital. Getting the timeline right, as well as the clothing, weaponry and language, for example, all help to make your story feel authentic and accurate. Author, A.J Sidransky, explores this further in his recent article about how to stay true to historical events.

Joining online groups and forums can also be a great way to learn more about your topic while meeting like-minded individuals who may be able to offer assistance when needed.

Start a research folder. This could be physical or digital. Keeping all your notes together will help when you begin the writing process as all the information you need will be handy.


Even if you’re not a planner, it’s helpful to have an idea of your story’s shape before you begin. Outlining enables you to see the beginning, middle and end of your story before you start writing. It allows you to test whether it’s viable and keeps you focused as you write. It can also prevent plot holes and timeline issues getting in your way. 

Many writers wait until they’ve finished a story to tackle a synopsis but summarising your story before you begin gives you a snapshot that you can keep in front of you as you write. Your synopsis doesn’t have to be perfect at this stage. Write one or two pages with details of your hook, any inciting incidents, plot points, the midpoint of your story, conflict and climax, plus the resolution, and you’ll have a great outline to work with.

Time to write!

Developing a story idea can be fun but don’t get too caught up. Too much planning and preparation can lead to procrastination. True story development happens when you start writing so get to that as soon as you can and bring your story to life. 

About Shelley Wilson

Shelley Wilson is a British, genre-straddling author of sixteen books including motivational self-help books and young adult fantasy fiction. She has a crazy black cat called Luna and is obsessed with vampires, Tudor and Viking history as well as exploring castles


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